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Jul 17 2013

How Meditation Helped Me Decide Whether I Should Have Another Child

By at 9:45 am

carla naumburg two girlsJust over a year ago, I wrote about my ambivalence about having a third child. In that post, I said that we had always wanted a big family, but after having two kids in less than two years, we were exhausted and not so sure. I also said that I hoped we would make a decision by the time our younger daughter turned 2.

We celebrated her 3rd birthday almost two weeks ago.

I think we may have come to a decision last week. Maybe. Probably. I’m pretty sure.

I’ve spent the past year angsting about this situation. I felt my biological clock was ticking away, albeit increasingly slowly as the months went by. I longed to be like my friends who just decided to “pull the goalie” (that’s hipster lingo for ditching the birth control, in case you were wondering) and let nature take its course. Although nature has not been on our side when it comes to reproduction, science has. I knew that having a third child would require more than a nice bottle of wine and a babysitter. We would need doctor’s appointments, consultations, and insurance approvals if we wanted to expand our family.

It would require an active decision on our part to make the leap. Again. And we just weren’t sure.

I thought about my father’s family; when you add in his step-siblings and half-brother, he is one of seven, and I have more first cousins than I can count on both hands and feet. I love our family reunions and holiday parties, and part of me wants to recreate the barely controlled chaos and extended support network of a large family. I thought about my mother, an only child who bore the brunt of her mother’s last years almost entirely on her own. I don’t want that for my girls, and it seems like more kids could mean less stress for any one of them.

But then I thought about myself. I’m tired. I’m busy. (Who isn’t?) I’m eager for the day when I can get the kids to sleep at night and not immediately collapse in an exhausted heap on the couch. Now that the girls (ages 3 & 4.5) are in beds and underwear and capable of expressing their needs in words (not that they always do), I feel I’m finally emerging from the fog of life with littles. I saw a newborn at a party over the weekend, and I was flooded by memories of umbilical cord stumps and multiple dirty diapers each day and breastfeeding and weird viruses with even weirder names and 20-minute naps every two hours and hourly wake-ups overnight and starting solids and I DON’T MISS ANY OF IT.

But the truth is that you’re in the shit (literally and figuratively) for such a relatively short period of time. Maybe it’s worth it for the joys of a big family? I just didn’t know, and my husband seemed to agree with both perspectives. (WHY did he have to pick THIS issue to not have a strong opinion on when he has an opinion on EVERYTHING ELSE ON THE PLANET? Um, love you, dear.)

We were stuck. Admittedly, it’s a win-win situation, as we already have two healthy, lovely daughters, but it was a quandary nonetheless.

*****

About a year ago I started meditating. I am most decidedly not the meditating type. I’ll take a 20 oz. Diet Coke and an NCIS marathon over drum circles and incense any day. But I had found the challenges of parenting to be unlike any other struggles I had encountered in life, and I wasn’t managing everything as well as I would have liked. I wasn’t sleeping well, I was gaining weight, and most disturbing to me, I was snapping and even yelling at my girls more often than I wanted to admit. I just wasn’t enjoying my time with my kids as much or as often as I knew I could.

I started reading and researching the challenges of parenthood even more than I had been (if that’s possible), and everything I found that made sense to my academic mind came back to meditation and mindfulness. I wasn’t entirely happy with this conclusion, as I wanted a solution more than a practice, but I decided to give it a try. I took a meditation course last summer, and while I would love to tell you it has changed my life, that’s not entirely true. But it has made it a whole lot better.

Most days of the week, I find time to meditate, anywhere from five to 25 minutes. I try whenever I can to practice mindfulness, which basically means paying attention to whatever is going on in a non-judgmental way. (This is a very simple but incredibly hard thing to do.) I still get grumpy, I still get frustrated, and I’m still tired at the end of the day. But overall, I’m yelling less, and I’m enjoying my time with my daughters so much more. It’s been a big change.

One of the greatest lessons I am learning from my mindfulness practice is how to see what is actually happening right in front of me. So much of my vision had been clouded by memories and regrets about the past or anxiety about the future that I had a hard time tuning in to the present moment. Slowly, I’m getting better at catching myself when that happens, and coming back to what is really going on.

*****

We were on vacation in Maine last week, and I had some time to be with my family. I tried to let go of my worries and just pay attention (I suspect I was successful about 8% of the time). Much to my surprise, though, something amazing happened.

I realized that our family makes sense just the way it is. Our daughters are happy, bright, active, funny kids. They are incredibly close, and each other’s best friends and favorite playmates. My husband and I can spend a week’s vacation with our children and have a lot of fun and not end up feeling totally overwhelmed. We are fulfilled as parents, and we’re both moving forward in our careers. I feel like I am enough and I have enough to meet everyone’s needs, including my own, most of the time.

I can’t change the past, and despite my best intentions, I can’t predict or control the future. I don’t want to make such an important decision based on who I imagined my family to be before we ever had children, nor do I want to make it based on whom I hope or fear we might become. The only real data I have is that which is right in front of me, right now: my husband and our two daughters (neither of whom want another sibling, for what it’s worth).

For months, my husband and I have talked ourselves in circles trying to decide what to do. But what if this happened? What if that happened? Wouldn’t it be great if? It wasn’t until we stepped out of the past, back from the future, and into the present moment that we were finally able to make a decision.

Our family is great just how we are. And I think we’ll keep it that way.

If you’d like to learn more about mindfulness meditation, check out Real Happiness by Sheryl Salzberg, this great article on ZenHabits, or spend some time on Mindful.org. If you’d like to learn more about mindful parenting, check out my blog on PsychCentral.

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